Former U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds, the first openly gay person elected to Congress, died at the age of 69 Saturday, October 14, 2006 at Boston Medical Center, a few days after he collapsed while walking his dog, according to Dean Hara, his husband of two years.
The congressman had come out in 1983 after a congressional page revealed that he and Studds had engaged in a relationship ten years earlier when the page was 17, and for which he was censured by the House of Representatives, but re-elected by his constituency.
The exclusive, and never-before published video interview excerpts with the former congressman by Annoy.com’s Clinton Fein, was conducted in 1994 for Fein’s critically acclaimed CD-ROM Conduct Unbecoming about gays and lesbians in the U.S. military based on the book by the same title by renowned journalist, Randy Shilts. Congressman Studds was still representing his district at the time.
“While we were discussing the ramifications of what was then the recent implementation of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, the broader issue of America’s perception of gay people, and the inherent issues and costs of being in the closet couldn’t be more relevant today, given the Mark Foley scandal and its attendant issues. I believe the congressman’s observations of twelve years ago still resonate in an interesting way, revealing how we’ve progressed in small ways, but remain tragically stagnant in our thinking,” said Fein.
"And since his name has been dredged up by those attempting to smear his legacy of late, and he obviously being either too ill or too dignified to defend himself,” continued Fein, "I thought his own insight, wisdom and clarity paint a very different self-awareness when weighed up against some coward hiding in rehab, making every excuse under the sun, blaming everyone but himself."
Excerpts from the Gerry Studds interview:
Studds:At least no one can deny our existence anymore. We’re there. We’re right smack on the front page every single day, to the point where we’re suddenly very grateful to be elsewhere for a while, but no one anticipated that kind of intense and sustained focus and controversy on this issue to the exclusion of everything else in the world, for weeks, it seemed, at a time.
Studds:Secondly, with regard to the nature of the gay community the fact of the matter is that most gay men and lesbians don’t live in San Francisco or New York or any of our major cities, and not only that, I happen to think that even most of those that do live in our major cities are closeted.
We don’t know who most of our troops are, and to suggest that one can mount an effective national fundraising and lobbying effort when you cannot identify over 90 percent of your own people, is, I think, naïve, and to forget some of the very nature of the problem we’re seeking to address and to speak to here.
I think that makes it terribly important that as we’re engaged in what is in the broader sense a political process, to understand that that political process…it’s the success of it at least … rests on the ability of each of us individually in our own lives to do what it is we have to do to be comfortable with ourselves to the point that we have sufficient self respect to go to our elected representatives, whatever level of government, but certainly in Washington – most gay men and women would never ever yet dare identify themselves as such to their representatives and senators.
We’ve got…most of my colleagues around here have rarely encountered gay constituents, at least not until very recently, and in very small numbers, and certainly not to the point where they’re beginning to realize that they’re in their own families, in their own churches, in their own businesses, in their own schools and colleges…we aren’t there yet. We are closer certainly, each week, each month, each year, than we’ve ever been before, where I think it is still undeniably true that the majority of our folks feel very real and painful and difficult reasons are not yet confident and strong enough to affirm themselves, first to themselves and then to the rest of the world, and until we’re able to do that, until we’re literally able to stand up for ourselves, I think it’s a bit naïve to expect a lot of others to be willing to stand up for us in the absence of us being in the frontlines ourselves. So we have a long way to go, but we’re going to get there, no doubt about it.